Medical science is probably as old as civilization itself. Trained professionals have practiced some form of medicine since the earliest recorded times. Cultures with sophisticated medical traditions included Babylon, Egypt, China, and India.
However, it was the rational approach of the early Greeks that has had the most significant influence on modern medicine. The Greeks were the first to introduce the ideas of diagnosis and prognosis, and they were the first to advance the idea of medical ethics. What’s more, a heavily revised version of the Hippocratic Oath, originating in the 5th century BCE, is still used in modern medicine.
A Brief History of Science in Medicine
While premedical students today struggle with displaying a scientific understanding of basic sciences like mathematics, physics, chemistry, and biology, these topics were not a concern in 13th century Italy. A time-traveler from the first medical university started in Italy in 1220 would have been astonished to learn about the many difficult questions asked in the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). This entrance exam is so complex that it is almost impossible to pass without the support of some MCAT tutoring.
When science was in its nascent stage, ideas discussed by leading thinkers would be considered naive for someone in a modern high school. In fact, this whole notion of science only began in the Renaissance, when there was some curiosity about anatomy and artists like Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo did illegal studies of cadavers. It was also during the Renaissance that the microscope was invented. However, it was not until the 19th century that the value of the microscope was fully appreciated when the germ theory of disease was discovered. This discovery led to the elimination of many infectious diseases.
Medicine changed rapidly in the early 20th century when major hospitals began to use the findings of advanced research centers to heal illnesses and save lives. By the middle of the century, antibiotics were discovered. In addition, there were significant developments in chemistry and genetics, and lab technology revealed the fascinating idea of the x-ray.
Socially, too, medicine advanced faster during the period from the 19th to the 20th century. Women were admitted to nursing in the 1870’s and started becoming physicians in the 1970’s.
Now, in the 21st century, medicine is characterized by breakthroughs in understanding serious illnesses. Today, scientific breakthroughs in the field of medicine can sound like science fiction. Take medical 3D printing, for example. According to Medicalfuturist.com:
- “If guns and other objects can be printed now and the biotechnology industry is working on printing even living cells; why would the appearance of 3D printed drugs be surprising? It will destroy and re-design the whole pharmaceutical world, but regulation will be a huge challenge as anyone will be able to print any kind of drugs that contain patented molecules at home. Bionic ears and simpler organs will be printed at the patient’s bedside.”
The Role of Doctors in the Healing Process
With the current rate of advances in medical research, it’s not far-fetched to think that a patient will be able to get a complete body scan that detects any anomalies in their health. Following this quick scan, analogous to antivirus software scanning a hard drive, the patient will then be given a diagnosis, prognosis, and prescription by an AI computer. This AI computer will be the distilled binary knowledge of all the top medical specialists in the world.
Miraculous as all this sound, it may not be enough to effect a cure because medicine is much more than a reductionist approach to describe pathological conditions. What separates medicine from science and technology is the human factor. Without a doctor in the picture, there would be no compassion, no sensible understanding of the patient’s stressful life conditions that led to the illness, and no flexibility on the best course of treatment to take.
Human-to-human interaction is necessary for people to get well. This is nowhere more apparent than in medicine where an empathetic, intuitive doctor can be highly efficacious in inspiring a patient to use their will to stimulate their immune system to fight off the illness.
Science is fantastic and technological advances can border on the miraculous, but without the indispensable role of doctors, medicine would cease to exist.